Reducing Conflict 49 Little White Lies

July 11, 2022

I suspect there is not a soul alive that has not told white lies at some point. Even though our parents taught us to tell the truth, sooner or later we have all violated the rule. If you have never told a lie, write to me and I will nominate you for sainthood. The thing about lies is that you can usually detect them by observing the person’s body language.

Lying to my manager

I recall one incident when my manager asked me if I had read a particular book. I said yes, but I really had not read it.  I was pretty sure he saw through the fib. There must have been a dozen ways my body was saying “no” while my mouth was saying “yes.” What is fascinating is the huge array of body language that is going on all of the time. It never stops. Most of the body language we send out is unconscious so our lies are easy to detect.

Watch the eyes

We see that kind of deception in children most easily. If you ask Johnny who tipped over the vase, he will shrug his shoulders indicating he does not know.  If you ask “was it you,” he will say “no.”  He is afraid he will be in trouble if he tells the truth.  But all parents know to watch their eyes for the truth. The mother knows instantly that Johnny not only knows who broke the vase but that it was him.  We teach our children that the bigger sin is to hide the truth than to break the vase, but only some of them learn the lesson.

Politicians are experts at lying

It is sad that so many people in positions of authority never did learn that lesson. Time after time we catch them in half-truths or big lies. It is so common with politicians or celebrities that we end up wondering if we can trust any of them. I am sure some of them can be, but my first inclination is to not believe what any of them say. This is particularly true if they broke the vase.  They might say it is a “no-spin zone,” but if you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you.

What adults need to realize is what we try to teach our children. It is better to be honest and admit mistakes because all human beings are fallible. Lying about a misstep gives us away because we cannot hide our subconscious body language. Next time you are tempted to tell a half-truth, remember that your credibility is on the line, and do not follow the example of many public figures who frequently embarrass themselves.

Admitting mistakes actually increases trust

I discovered many years ago that admitting a mistake is a good way to build rather than destroy trust. People will take notice when you consciously blow yourself in when you might have escaped with a lie.  Build a reputation for yourself as a straight shooter. It is worth the effort.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 48 Wait Your Turn

July 4, 2022

Ever since we were children, we have had to wait our turn. The world has numerous individuals who all have needs. The services available to attend to those needs are pitifully inadequate to meet them all at once. Hence, the need for a cue and a triage process. Hospitals deal with this problem every hour of every day. The decision process is complex, but the hospitals have a routine and do it by rote.

Nursing Homes

Other institutions handle the problem of priority with varying degrees of skill.  For example, some nursing homes are quite good at assessing the needs of individuals. Unfortunately, many of them are so understaffed, the residents often feel abused when they have a personal need. They have to wait long periods for assistance. Attempts to gain higher priority by several different methods, like calling out every 15 seconds, usually backfire. These attempts to get attention put that person lower on the priority list than those who humbly wait.

My own story

For the person waiting, it seems so unfair and annoying. I learned that lesson when I was in high school. One cold winter night, I had finished my homework and decided to take a hot bath before going to bed.  My Dad was out of town on business, and my Mom was out at an art class.  No problem; I was 17 years old.  I got in the hot tub and gleefully soaked for as long as I could stand. Then I got out of the tub to dry off.

I remember grabbing the towel, then immediately blacked out from the lack of oxygen.  The next conscious moment, I was on the floor of the bathroom with blood all over the place. I had fallen, hitting my chin on the tub, resulting in a gaping cut that would require stitches for sure.

I called the place where Mom was taking her art class and told them to send her home for an “emergency.”  Can you imagine how cruel that was to do to my mother? She had no idea what the emergency was!

She came screaming home and transported me to the emergency room of the hospital several blocks from our home. I sat in the waiting room of the hospital for over an hour with a towel to sop up the blood. They took me into the triage room and started to work on me.  Then, it seemed that the attention went elsewhere. There was a bunch of activity in the room next to me and all of the staff went over there.

The sad truth

I was very upset because I had to wait longer to get treatment.  After another hour, they came back and stitched me up.  When I complained, they told me that a man had a heart attack, and he died.  It turned out that the man was the father of one of my friends.  Ten minutes earlier I was feeling sorry for myself, and now I realized my problem was nothing compared to what was going on just a few feet down the hall. That was a memorable moment for me.

Summary 

Never assume you know the full extent of the load on service providers and be patient when other people are getting attention.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 47 Other People’s Pain

June 27, 2022

Empathy is critical if we want to help other people who are experiencing pain.  There ought to be a course somewhere in the education system on EMP-101.  This article brings up some cautions about how we express our empathy when people are in crisis.

You will hear the phrase “I know how you feel” perhaps thousands of times in your lifetime. The truth is that other people can never fully feel your pain.  They may be able to approximate it based on their own experiences. They may be able to deduce how you feel by extrapolating the situation and how you look or sound. They can never fully experience what you are going through.

Far better to say something like, “I am sorry you are going through this. Is there any way I can help?” You cannot put yourself fully in the other person’s shoes. Why utter banal phrases that make it seem like you can? 

I will direct this article mostly to a term called “Professional Hurt.” I learned the term from Dr. Ruby Brown from Jamaica, who coined the phrase. I met Ruby while speaking at the Caribbean Leadership Program in Trinidad. She wrote her dissertation on the topic of Professional Hurt.  It is when a person in a professional setting is abused somehow by managers or circumstances beyond control.

Professional Hurt also occurs when a person gets demoted or fired. It may be the result of being passed over for a promotion or being marginalized in some way. 

When someone else is hurting, spend more time listening to the person.  Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh that is just like how I felt last year when they withheld a promised raise.”  That is not going to make the other person feel any better.  Listening to stories of people who are worse off or have had the same problem does not relieve the person’s pain today. Rather, ask thoughtful questions if the person wants to talk. Just be present if the person is in shock or unable to verbalize the pain. 

Body language is particularly important when dealing with another person who is in a crisis. You can show that you care more with your facial expression than you can with a constant stream of babble. Just listening and nodding may be the best thing you can do for the other person at that moment. 

Logic is not a good approach. You may be tempted to cheer the person up by saying, “These things don’t last forever; you’ll be feeling better soon.”  That kind of approach often backfires. It can belittle the person who is suffering to imply that time alone will heal things. 

Try to avoid hackneyed expressions that are commonly used in the working world. If your friend has just been fired, don’t tell him, “Whenever one door is closed, another will open.”  Do not try to cheer him up with “Nobody likes working for that jerk anyway.” Shut your trap and take your cues from the person who is hurting. 

Let your presence and body language do the talking for you.  If it seems the other person needs input, try “you’re strong enough to overcome this.” Another phrase is “what would you like to happen now,” but the laconic approach is usually superior.

Do not recount how your neighbor had the same situation and ended up with a big promotion.  All those kinds of phrases may make you feel like you are helping. In reality, little real comfort is coming through the overused phrases or comparisons.

Above all, recognize that you do not know how the other person is feeling and the best thing you can do is admit that. Show your love and feeling by avoiding the typical mistakes made by well-intended people.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 46 Perception Problems

June 19, 2022

This article is about perception problems in everyday life.  No two people will see a phenomenon the same way. As our fingerprints are all unique, so is our perception of what is going on around us.

Hold up a Quarter

To demonstrate perception, I can hold a quarter out in front of me while I am facing you. I will describe a round metal object with an embossed head on it.  You will describe a round metal object with an embossed picture of an eagle sitting on a branch.  We are both describing the exact same object, yet we see it differently.

The phenomenon is generally true

The same phenomenon happens when two people see any kind of situation at work or at home. They see the same thing, but it has a different appearance depending on their personal vantage point.

This difference means they will draw different conclusions about what just happened and the significance of it.  Taking the next step requires each individual to react to the stimulus in an appropriate way.  Each person is free to react however he or she feels is appropriate for the situation.  This is true even if both people perceived exactly the same thing. What would seem appropriate to one person might be the wrong thing to do for the other. All this discrepancy leads to squabbles about actions taken.

Example of an attendance problem

For example, let’s suppose a manager is discussing an employee with a severe attendance problem with her supervisor. The manager and supervisor may have different opinions about the problem itself. Perhaps the supervisor knows the lady has a child who has special needs. This situation calls for many trips to the child’s doctor. The supervisor wants to be lenient based on this knowledge.

From the manager’s perception, this employee needs to have the same set of rules as everyone else. Special treatment will lead to poor discipline in the unit. The manager sees an untenable situation that needs progressive counseling, while the supervisor sees the need for flexibility.

Differences of opinion create a great deal of conflict in any workplace.  From my perspective, I will be pretty sure my way is right.  The trouble is that another person will be just as sure his perception and remedy are right. 

The opposite of right is wrong

If I know that I am right, and you see things differently, then by definition, you must be wrong.  In most instances, my reaction to this dichotomy is to try to educate you on why your perception is incorrect.  You will try to get me to realize the error of my thinking.  We are off to the races in conflict.

This genesis of conflict is going on in small and large ways each and every day. Is it any wonder there is so much acrimony in the workplace and at home?  This problem is ubiquitous. What are some antidotes so we can reduce the conflicts between people?

  1. Seek to understand assumptions – What is behind the perception?
  2. Try reversing the roles – Force yourself to see a different perspective.
  3. Use Reflective Listening – Make sure you are hearing the other person.
  4. Watch the language – Ask more questions and avoid edgy statements.
  5. Agree to Disagree – You can still be friends.
  6. Don’t blow things out of proportion – Keep differences small.
  7. Get a good mediator – A third person can be helpful.
  8. Give in – Letting the other person win is often a great strategy.
  9. Discuss calmly – A calm rational discussion can often clear up the difference.
  10. Show love – Keeping things positive helps a lot.

Humans have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. This tendency is worse when people are in close proximity. It is the reason why you can appreciate and love members of your family until they come to visit for a week.  At a distance, it is easy to manage disagreements most of the time. When people are underfoot every day, the little things tend to become so irritating, that the conflict begins to snowball.

We all see things through a slightly different lens. We process assumptions about what is happening through our parochial brain. Conflict is going to happen. Take some of the evasive steps like the ones above to keep the volume down on interpersonal differences.  Life is too short to be habitually annoyed by fellow workers or family members. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 45 Adopt Problem People

June 12, 2022

Managing problem people is an art that can be very complicated and frustrating. Most managers recognize that they are spending an inordinate amount of time with a few problem employees. The Pareto principle applies in this instance: usually, 20% of the people will require 80% of a manager’s attention.

Problem people are a distraction

When you have problem people on the team it is a great distraction. It prevents you from spending time on the strategy or on reinforcing people who are doing good work. I found a technique that helped me convert some of the more difficult workers into superstars.

Adopt the difficult cases

The idea is to select one or two of the most difficult cases and “adopt” them. Don’t tell them you are doing this; just start operating in a different way. The first thing to do is decide which of the problem people are worth saving. You will not be successful at saving them all, but by using this technique you can convert around 50% of the difficult cases. That progress can be a huge benefit to your effectiveness.

Real example

Ruth was a caustic employee in one of the departments reporting to me. She once told her manager, “You’ve got no right to be in business.”  Ruth was an informal leader of the people on her shift because she was witty and quick.  People listened to her, which was bad news for the manager because she was spreading negativity. I saw great potential in Ruth if she could change her attitude.  I genuinely liked her despite the rough exterior and acid tongue. She had strengths, but there were too many rough edges.

I started getting to know Ruth a lot better. I found out about her unique set of needs and opinions. After a while, I started to understand what made her tick. I made it a point to drop into the break room almost daily before the start of her shift. I would sit with her group and just listen.  At first, it was awkward, but they tolerated me and soon they actually welcomed me to their table.

The root cause of the problem

It turns out that the reason Ruth was acting out was severe racial abuse by her prior manager. The scars left her skeptical of all people in management.

I started improving the relationship with Ruth by asking her opinion. I encouraged her manager to listen openly to her ideas. Look for the insight they might provide instead of rejecting anything that came out of her mouth. Ruth started to turn and soften the rhetoric because she felt more respected.

Recognizing the opportunity

We were now in a position to take the next step. We asked Ruth to head up a planning group for a new packaging line.  Her natural leadership showed in this effort. She was able to quickly get the cooperation of the operators and maintenance people. The job turned out to be a big success. We brought in top management and let Ruth tell how the job finished early and under budget.  Top managers were impressed and said so. 

Building on success

Having a success to build on, we took a further risk and appointed Ruth to a supervisory position.  We also sent her for some excellent leadership training. She was excited to see these moves because there was real upward momentum in her career. It was something she never dreamed would happen. She was making more money and having greater influence in the business.  At the same time, the negativity was melting away.  Gone was the caustic sarcasm that was her trademark for years before. She was a strong advocate for the management side of contemplated actions.

Ruth ended up retiring as a very successful supervisor. If she had stayed on, I was considering making her a department manager, she was that strong and effective. The best part is that she felt better about herself and what she had accomplished in her career.

Conclusion

Recognize that you cannot save all individuals who are problem employees. You can, however, change some of them. They can go from a drain or negative influence on the environment to a very positive, even stellar, performer. Imagine the power of taking people who are a drag on performance and making them into your superstars. That is well worth the effort.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 


Reducing Conflict 44 Consolidation Mistakes

June 6, 2022

During a major consolidation, such as a merger or acquisition, trust goes down for many different reasons. In this article, I will discuss a phenomenon that really hurts people. Managers ask some individuals to do their previous job plus the work of another person. It happens when leaders fail to plan the transition well.

I tell a story below as one form of the disastrous consequence of clueless leadership. There are a host of other consequences that can occur as well.

A common story in reorganizations

In the planning phase, top management has a gag rule on information. Sometimes it is because of legal restrictions. Other times it is out of fear. They are afraid people would panic if they knew what was going to happen. They try to avoid sabotage and other problems. It seems best to keep things under wraps until the merger is ready.

Secret meetings lead to rumors

Rumors start as a result of all the secret meetings. Workers expect some layoffs because one primary objective of a merger is the consolidation of staff positions. People are aware of this and hope they will be one of the survivors. In reality, some people are smart enough to hope they do not survive.

Managers keep people in a vacuum before the announcement of a merger.  Then some people find out they are expected to do the impossible. Many managers handle the situation with zero sensitivity, and they pay a heavy price.

Top brass announces the merger, but it is really not a shock to the people in the organization. They are just glad to have the news out in the open. Living with the rumors is a most uncomfortable feeling. Now, at least people will find out if they will be “impacted” or not.

The announcement day

The dreaded day approaches and finally arrives. The boss calls the impacted people in one by one to tell them the bad news. A remaining employee, let’s say, Mary, breathes a sigh of relief until the boss calls her into the office. He says, “As you know, we have let Jake go, so you will now cover his responsibilities.”

Mary says, “But I already have a full workload of customers, and I don’t know anything about Jake’s job.”

The Boss says, “Just do the best you can. Remember, as one of our most talented people, you are lucky to still have a job here.” (This last sentence should never be uttered by a leader who has a clue.)

In a daze, Mary wanders into Jake’s empty office. She looks around and shakes her head. “Well, I might as well dig in here and see what Jake’s job entails.” She looks halfheartedly into Jake’s file drawers and starts trying to make sense of the mess. 

Think about this scene. Have you ever tried to decipher someone else’s files with no crossover? It is impossible.

Reality hits

The sound of the phone ringing in her office wakes Mary up. She runs down the hall and grabs the phone in time. It is the familiar voice of one of her own customers. Thankfully, she is able to answer the question and satisfy the concern. She does a double-take and realizes that there are 18 messages on her answering machine from the past two hours. She starts clearing out her backlog and becomes totally engaged in her old job. She knows that job and can handle the issues.

Trying to train herself

Every day for the next several weeks, Mary goes to Jake’s office for a couple of hours (usually including her lunchtime). This is a feeble attempt to keep the most vocal customers in Jake’s area from blowing up.

There is little understanding or history to back up her actions, so she is not very effective. It is impossible to keep up with Jake’s workload in a couple of hours a day. Mary focuses most of her attention on the job she understands: her old job. She works many long days trying to manage the load.

Unhappy customers

Customers eventually write nasty e-mails to the top manager who jumps all over the area manager. Customers are taking their business elsewhere because there is no service. The boss rushes into Mary’s office and says, “Mary, you are not performing like your usual self. We have customers that are your responsibility who are defecting. I know you are super busy, but you simply cannot afford to ignore customers who are in need.”

 

 Bye-bye now

Mary says, “You are right, Bill. I cannot. Another thing I cannot afford is to work here for you any longer. My family and my doctor tell me I am heading for a heart attack. I am simply unable to perform what is expected. Therefore, I am handing in my two-weeks notice.”

Note the simple but inevitable consequence of an action by management to do a poor job of transition planning.

The company lost valuable customers and one of its most valuable employees. In addition, this situation is going on multiple times in the work unit.  Mary was not the only one whose workload doubled with no training. There is no way to make up for this damage. It is a major blow to the business; in many cases it is fatal.

What caused the failure?

The fault here is not the merger itself; it is the rush to jettison redundant staff too soon. That is silly because they could have planned for a few months of crossover time in the process.

I am not saying that mergers are a picnic if managers give people more time to plan. Many of the problems will occur no matter how the managers announce the merger. If we contrast the above scenario with a slightly modified one, the result has the potential of a brighter outcome.

 A better way to handle the transition

The area manager calls all employees together on day one. He says, “As a result of the merger, we are probably going to need to reduce staff in the next few months. None of us are happy about this, but it will likely happen. The best thing you can do now is focus on your job. As we plan for how many people will need to leave, I will keep you informed.”

During the next couple of weeks, the need for a layoff becomes clear. The boss calls Jake into the office and says, “Jake, as you know we are projecting a layoff. It looks like you are impacted. We will either let you go or have you assume a different role. I will work with you to find the best option.

You should begin networking now, both inside the company and outside. In the meantime, please work with Mary to introduce her to your customer base. I will tell her that we are combining her job with yours, but we will reduce her other responsibilities to allow her time to accomplish the combined area.”

 

The discussion with Mary

In the discussion with Mary, the boss stresses that she is a highly valued employee. She is being called on to stretch her influence with the customer base.  A reduction in her other responsibilities will provide some relief in order to allow more face time with customers. She will also receive a modest bump in pay as a result of the increased load. She will inherit Jake’s accounts and should get up to speed on them over the next few weeks. Jake will help train her.

Advanced planning and preparation can help adjust the numbers needed for adequate customer service.

I grant that this second scenario is far from easy or painless for all parties, but the consequences are far less debilitating for the business. Treat all employees like adults from the start and level with them.

Conclusion

All consolidations are problematic. Regardless of the particular situation, managers need to be particularly attentive to the needs of people. Clueless decisions usually lead to much greater disruptions.  The best course of action is to be as transparent as possible in the concept phase.  In the planning phase, leaders need to think carefully about the consequences of their decisions.

 

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Reducing Conflict 43 You Are Never Objective

May 30, 2022

I originally intended to have the title for this article read “How Do You Know When You Are Biased.”  I realized that it is impossible to be totally unbiased on an issue.  The most we can do is be conscious of our biases and factor that knowledge into our deliberations. We can also seek to replace hubris with humility.  

Nobody is Totally Objective

To be totally objective would put us in the category of a machine or computer. Unless you are Mr. Spock, you have emotions and cannot entirely separate your logical reasoning from your emotions. You also carry a set of beliefs that come from all the experiences you have had to date. You cannot detach yourself from your unique mindset any more than the earth can detach from the solar system. With herculean effort, you may be able to change your orbit a perceptible amount. You will always be subject to the laws of physics in your corner of the universe.

Measuring Performance

One place to observe bias is when managers try to measure the performance of people who work for them. Imagine a manager trying to write an objective performance appraisal. Because the manager is a human being, he or she will observe performance through a certain lens. It would be impossible to factor out personal biases.  By recognizing that there is the certainty of a bias, the manager can take that into account. One tool is to use a correlation process where several managers review the appraisals each one has written.

If you have an environment of trust, groups of managers can discuss observations about an individual without getting defensive. In this open discussion, one particular manager’s biases can become more visible.  This practice reduces the problem of favoritism and enhances the level of trust in an organization.

Biased Media

Another area where we struggle to be objective is when thinking about political issues. We are bombarded by information presented with strong biases already baked in.  Most of us prefer to listen to the “news” that is slanted in the direction we habitually lean. That gives us a kind of affirmation that our biases are valid. For fun, I listen to news on a network known for having the opposite bias from my own.  It is a kind of jarring exercise as I quickly see how their biases are strikingly “wrong.” Then I realize that it could be my biases that are so far off base. One thing is for sure, when interpreting political forces, there is no such thing as objectivity.

Your opinion is a very personal thing; the good news is that you can never get your opinion wrong. The bad news is that your opinion will never be totally objective. Factor that conundrum into your decisions and relationships with other people. One tool to do this is to take off the “I AM RIGHT” button you wear every day. Replace it with a button that says, “I have an opinion on that – what’s yours?”

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Reducing Conflict 42 Fewer Surveys

May 22, 2022

In most organizations, when managers want to know how people are feeling, they do a survey to find out. There are more direct ways to identify what people are thinking. By simply discussing the need for a survey, the most insightful data is already revealed.

Issues with surveys

Not all surveys are bad, but many organizations make mistakes when trying to obtain information through employee surveys. Here are some classic mistakes:

  1. Too many surveys. They become an annoyance.
  2. Not anonymous. If people sense managers can tell who made the input, then it will not be valid.
  3. Poorly designed. Generally, surveys are more burdensome than they need to be.
  4. No feedback on the results or no visible changes were made in response to surveys.
  5. The survey asks leading questions that are not validated.
  6. Asking for the same information multiple times.

High trust eliminates the need for surveys in most cases

I believe that in an environment of high trust there is less need to obtain information through surveys. Taking an employee engagement survey usually does not reveal trust weaknesses or their causes. In low trust environments, people will either not be totally honest or be angered by yet another survey.

Most people believe the data will sit in a desk drawer anyway, and it will not provide real change. How many times have you heard employees say this?  “They keep doing these satisfaction surveys, but nothing ever changes around here.”

Taking a survey feels like progress to a management team with their hearts in the right place.  They believe they can dig in and really understand the problems in depth. I believe there is a far easier and more accurate way to get the real data.

In an environment of high trust, the information is present every day. What is working well and what needs to change is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. People do not need to fill out boxes on a computerized screen to identify the most pressing needs. Improvement opportunities will surface continuously and naturally. Action can occur immediately, not after 11 meetings to discuss the 27-page summary of the employee satisfaction survey. 

Identify changes to management behaviors

There is a better way to make progress. Identify which management behaviors are causing people to hold back the truth out of fear. Rather than contemplating an employee satisfaction survey, Management should be asking themselves questions such as:

  1. How can we change the culture to eliminate the need to take surveys in the future?
  2. How can we modify the way we interact with people? We want them to tell us when problems are small and easily resolved.
  3. How can we get more time in the workplace to chat with people?
  4. How can we continually test our understanding of people by listening and watching their body language?
  5. Why do we have an insular management team? When we look around the room, why do we not see more workers in our meetings?
  6. Why do people think our values are not practiced consistently?
  7. Why are our goals not fully understood or supported by the people doing the work?
  8. How can we build a culture of higher trust?

Focus management energy on creating a real environment where people are not playing games with each other.  In that culture, improvement ideas will flow like water down a mountain stream and fewer surveys will be required. 

Ask questions like the ones above and seek to gain information from your analysis. The progress will be far easier to achieve and more robust as well.

 

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Reducing Conflict 41 Short Staff

May 15, 2022

I once graded a paper written by an MBA student. She wrote, “Short staff think only inside the box.”  The unusual wording made an impact on me, and I decided to write a blog on the concept. 

Of course, she was not referring to people of lesser physical stature. She was commenting on the habitual practice of numerous organizations to run thin. These organizations have staffing levels so low that they compromise the viability of the business.

What is the “Right” Staff Level?

Knowing the “correct” level of staff is a tricky business for sure.  I have done consulting for organizations where the employees scream about their overload.  Later on, working with these same groups, people would grumble about how most people were goofing off.  In truth, most organizations get only a small fraction of the discretionary effort inherent in the workforce.

I concur with Gallup. They measured that in the average company only about 1/3 of the workers were fully engaged.   

What the Staff Says

Some leaders use the amount of screaming for more resources as a guide to hiring.  If the whining is low, they figure the organization is running too fat.  If people are complaining but toughing it out, they conclude things are about right.  If people are becoming ill and if turnover is sky high, they grudgingly agree to put on a couple more people. 

Gauging the level of staff based on the complaint level is dangerous.  If things get too thin for an extended period, the best people just leave. The Great Resignation was a classic example of how that happens.  

What About Creativity?

I thought my student’s comment on the impact that running too thin has on creativity was spot on. You can observe overworked people in numerous venues.  When workers are stretched beyond reasonable limits, there is no energy to focus on creative solutions to improve conditions.

Let’s examine a specific occupation as an example.

According to the Gallup Organization, the nursing occupation is the most-highly trusted occupation category. This was true every year since they have been measuring trust in organizations. 

Nurses have so many critical tasks that they hardly find time to eat, let alone try to figure out creative solutions to problems. Also, during the pandemic, many health care workers were putting in double shifts just to handle the load.

Asking for that level of effort only works until it impacts the viability of the health professionals. I am only singling out nurses because it is easy to observe this situation; in reality, the problem occurs in numerous types of jobs. 

Don’t Exceed the Elastic Limit of People

In an effort to improve productivity, leaders stretch their resources like a rubber band.  The problem is that if you do that, eventually you will exceed the elastic limit of the rubber, and it will permanently deform or just snap. 

In those conditions, people are going to do the requirements as best they can. They will not be very engaged in improving the conditions. They become case hardened and bitter.  When people feel abused, they go into survival mode. Continuous improvement is non-existent, so the managers get exactly what they deserve. It becomes a vicious cycle.

A Better Approach to Workforce Staffing

The antidote is to work on changing the culture so that the current workforce is producing at a multiple of their prior productivity. Work on trust rather than forcing existing people to work in a constant state of overload. It means investing in the resources you have and maybe even adding some. Continually cutting back in an effort to survive is a losing game. You may survive in the short term, but your long-term prognosis is terminal.

When I suggest to leaders that they need to invest in their culture, I often get an incredulous or outraged look in return.  “How can we possibly afford to work on our culture when everybody is already at the limit of their capability?”  Well, you cannot unless you change your attitude about how people work. Maintain the right level of resources so that you can invest in the culture. That path will ensure a better future.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Reducing Conflict 40 We Versus They

May 9, 2022

Whenever two groups are trying to work together you can often hear “we versus they” conversations.

In this article, I use the example of mergers and acquisitions, but the phenomenon applies to all situations with different groups.

After announcing a merger or acquisition, there is a period of integration while the cultures reach a new equilibrium. During this process, it is common to hear a lot of “we versus they” language coming from both groups.

If not addressed, this parochial thinking process can go on for a long time. The rhetoric undermines the benefits of the combined entity. This article highlights some ideas on how to move from a “we/they” point of view and get more quickly to “us.”

Operating as Separate Entities

Sometimes there is a setup where both organizations are supposed to go on as if they were still separate entities.  For example, when Amazon acquired Zappos they allowed Zappos to operate as if the acquisition had not occurred.  The goal was for less disruption. 

That logic may hold for a while, but eventually, the benefits of operating efficiently together will take the upper hand. Sooner or later, people are going to have to work as a team and trust one another. 

Lack of Trust

In the majority of cases, the integration is a rocky process because trust is low from the start. Getting groups to work together with one common set of processes is a journey that can take years to accomplish.

On paper, the plan usually calls for full integration in a couple of months. In reality, you can hear the “we versus they” logic for several years after the announcement.

Geographic Complications

Geographic separation tends to exacerbate the situation. For example, you would hear, “We always did it this way, but they will not let us do it.” For multinational organizations, the problem is a constant source of irritation.

Why Does it Happen

What gives rise to we/they thinking? I believe it is because people naturally fear change and try to make the inevitable changes impact the other group.  Both groups feel they have been taken over or greatly inconvenienced by the need to “do it their way.” 

People dig in their heels and try to subvert the changes. That attitude is tantamount to sabotage. It can sink all efforts to create the kind of efficient, homogeneous entity that the planners intended.

Starting Over

One method is to toss out the procedures for each entity. Invent joint processes that serve both organizations from the ground up. That process sounds like a fair one until you get into it. Realize that you are fighting both groups on each and every process change. It is still we versus they but with a different flavor. 

Deflecting Energy from Goals

The most significant issue with the “we versus they” attitude is that it siphons off energy away from the main goals.  Instead, people spend significant time and resources arguing over the nits of process details. The customer is left wondering what happened to the good old level of service that was the norm before the merger.

How to Avoid the Problem

What steps can leaders take to eliminate “we versus they” and get to “us” more quickly?  One method is to transplant enough people from one entity to the other that it becomes difficult to tell who are “we” and who are “they.”  That process is not always a popular one, but it does lead to a faster integration of the populations. It also enhances bench strength due to cross-training.

Another Way to Fix

One cure to the “we versus they” feeling is if another larger entity comes along and gobbles up the merged group. They are now fighting off a different “they” and quickly become the “we” together. Let me explain that a bit more so it is clear.  You have the merger of A & B.  There is significant angst because both groups feel taken over. They are trying to resolve their differences when Group C buys out the sum of A & B.  Now as if by magic, the merged A & B get along great and work to fend off the effects of the big bad C Group.

Use Better Language

One effective and inexpensive way to address the problem is for the leaders to always model the use of integrated language. They need to coach those who use oppositional language to change their pattern of speech.  Replace “them” with “us” whenever possible and do not support discussions that pit one side versus the other. 

Having both groups meet together to chart a mutual shared purpose and strategy often goes a long way toward getting to “us.”  When people put significant energy into crafting a collaborative vision, they tend to become closer as a result.

If both leaders of the prior entities are still on board heading up the combined unit, it helps to have them swap positions. That process adds to the knowledge base for bench strength and eliminates parochial thinking at the top.

In a merger or acquisition, it is wise to tackle the problem of “we/they” thinking with a conscious strategy.  If not, the journey to full integration could be a long and painful one.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is the author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind